Michigan high school blends Jesuit tradition with special needs education

Michigan high school blends Jesuit tradition with special needs education

A Veritas Christi student with her father. Photo courtesy of Veritas Christi.
A Veritas Christi student with her father. Photo courtesy of Veritas Christi.

.- In Michigan a new kind of specialized education is being crafted from the backbone of Jesuit formation, which will cater to students who learn differently than those in a traditional setting by focusing on special needs education.

Veritas Christi Catholic High School has only been a virtual reality so far, offering students with special needs a Catholic education online. However, Veritas Christi plans to physically open the doors to their school campus in the fall, giving their students a space to learn in the outskirts of Ann Arbor.

“We’ve been called to fulfill this mission,” the school’s co-founder Richard Nye told CNA.

“It has been and continues to be a research mission to develop and design the absolute best comprehensive, Catholic high school for students with special needs,” Nye continued.

Nye himself benefitted from special needs education throughout his elementary, secondary, and high school years. His wife is a polio survivor and his grandson also has special needs – just a few reasons why he wanted to start a Catholic-centric high school to serve students with a range of different abilities.

From years of careful research and collaboration, Veritas Christi was born. The school has formed a Jesuit-centered curriculum which will cater to both students who will end their education at high school and those who will continue on to higher education.

All of the school’s teachers are Catholic and endorsed by Michigan as special education teachers. The classrooms will remain small, with about 8 to 10 students per class, and admittance to the school will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We want to make sure of every opportunity for our students to enjoy the best in Catholic education,” Nye stated, “and we don’t want to overpromise. That’s our goal.”

Although there are other Catholic schools around the country who accommodate students with more specific special needs, Veritas Christi is unique because of their broader approach.

“There are thirteen categories of special needs in Michigan – this comes from the department of education. Our goal is to meet the needs of all thirteen categories as much as we possibly can,” he continued, “and I say that with all due respect to other Catholic schools.”

The school has received endorsements from such prominent figures as Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Vice President Joe Biden, and philosopher Jean Vanier.

Although the location for the school has already been decided, the funding for the building is based on donations. The opening of the Veritas Christi campus will be dependent upon receiving the first year’s lease - $160,000 - before the fall semester, and they have started a crowdfunding page encouraging donations.

With about 50 students on the waiting list, Nye said that “the immediate, overriding goal is to raise the money for at least one year’s lease... we have parents waiting for those doors to open.”

Maureen Martindale is one of those parents. She lives about 45 minutes from the prospective campus, and is eager for her child to attend Veritas Christi.

“What intrigued us most about Veritas Christi is the religious and Jesuit-centered education offered to children of all abilities,” Martindale told CNA.
 
“The ultimate mission of Veritas Christi High School is to teach these special children of God what his love looks like and feels like in the classroom. The two most important subjects in their curriculum are love and respect,” she continued.

Martindale isn’t the only parent looking for a Catholic education for her special needs child. Nye said parents from all over the country have promised to move to Michigan if the school opens.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Nye noted, saying the school is the answer to many families' prayers.

“If we can raise the money for our 1-year lease, that would be absolutely an answer to our prayers and prayers of other people, especially parents,” Nye stated.

If the school successfully launches, Nye said the long-term plans would be to “develop Veritas Christi into a day school and a boarding school for students who are unable to move here.”

The school would also expand to offer a first-class athletic program, through a partnering opportunity with the University of Michigan’s athletic department.

“What we hope it will accomplish is filling a need that is currently not being met,” Nye stated, saying, “so far, the reaction has been extremely positive.”